Cyclone hockey (7-6-1) will take on the University of Illinois Fighting Illini (7-3-2) this weekend in Ames.
It will be a top-20 tilt as the Cyclones find themselves ranked 17th this week and the Fighting Illini are 14th. This is nothing out of the ordinary for the Cyclones as the past month featured all ranked matchups.
“We know we’re in every game,” said Cyclone forward Ray Zimmerman. “We know we can play with everyone here in the division, in the country.”
After playing their last two series on the road, the Cyclones return home to face conference rival Illinois. The road stretch will continue for the Cyclones after this weekend with two more consecutive road series.
“It’s always nice to get home especially after back-to-back road trips, and some decently long trips,” said Cyclone forward Dylan Goggin. “Illinois is always a fun team to play, and I’m expecting a good matchup this weekend.”
The Cyclones are averaging 1.85 goals per game this season while the Fighting Illini are giving up 3.17 goals per game.
Getting chances has not been a problem for the Cyclones as they are averaging 32 shots on goal per game.
“The only thing that we’re struggling with is finishing our chances,” said coach Jason Fairman. “I think we have that potential — we’re just not executing.”
With 14 games played, the Cyclones are just over a third of the way through the season. At this number of games last year, they had scored 46 goals. The Cyclones have 26 goals so far this season.
The Cyclone defense last year had given up 41 goals to this point in the season. This year’s defense has given up 23.
Even with scoring being a problem at times, the Cyclones have not lost a game by more than three goals. The average goal differential in losses is two goals per game.
“We’re getting the opportunities; we’re pretty positive about it,” Zimmerman said. “Statistically speaking, they’re eventually going to start going in.”
Last season, the Cyclones and the Fighting Illini played four games against each other, two series at each team’s home ice. They split the four games two apiece, with the home team winning every game.
Dating back to the 2014-15 season, the Cyclones and the Fighting Illini have split the regular season games evenly at 2-2 each year.
“Regardless of what the records are, they’re always good games," Fairman said. "They could go either way, so [I] expect it to be the same this weekend."
Three net minders have taken the ice for the Fighting Illini this year. Jacob Barnhart and Elliot Gerth have been the main two, based on game appearances and minutes played. Barnhart and Gerth have appeared in seven and six games respectively. The lone appearance for Royce Allred — the third goalie — came in Illinois’ third game of the season against Michigan State.
Barnhart is ranked 38th in goals against with 2.81 per game and 48th in save percentage at 88.9%. Gerth and Allred are not listed in the top 50.
In comparison, Cyclone goalie Nikita Kozak is ranked seventh in goals against per game (1.56) and save percentage (94.7%).
“We always play the same way, play hard, so the opportunities will always be there for us, and we just have to put them in,” Zimmerman said.
In Illinois’ previous four games, Barnhart and Gerth have each started two games and played the entire 60 minutes without swapping mid-game.
With Barnhart and Gerth splitting time evenly over the recent weeks, this series has the potential to be the first starting keeper outside of the top 50 the Cyclones have faced in the last month.
The Cyclones are not worried about the goal scoring situation.
“We’ve got to keep working to get those opportunities,” Goggin said. “We’ll start worrying when we stop getting those opportunities.”
The puck will drop at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Ames/ISU Ice Arena.